Kyleakin Connections staff face waiting game on Covid-19 restrictions

Regular users of the Kyleakin Connections facility; Cameron Reid, Lachie John MacDonald and Scott Anderson are pictured on Wednesday morning with members of staff, Charlene MacLeod, Katie O’Connor, Caroline Langlands, Laura MacLeod and Iona MacLennan.

Staff at Kyleakin Connections in south Skye are still waiting for clarification on how a relaxation of Covid restrictions will affect how the centre operates.

As reported in the Free Press’ 18th February edition, KC offers day services for adults with a variety of conditions and while it is one of the few facilities in the Highland that has managed to remain open since summer of last year – operating under the strictest Covid guidelines covering mask use, hygiene and social distancing rules – the project’s café and bookshop is still closed.

The Scottish Government recently stated that there was “no requirement for service users to physically distance” and that day centres can all re-open.

However, KC manager Charlene MacLeod said:  “I was unaware of this as I have not heard or read this in any government documentation or received anything from NHS Highland.  If this is the case then it will make a big difference on how we operate, but it is also disappointing it has not been relayed to us.”

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Ms MacLeod was still seeking clarity from NHS Highland as we went to press on Wednesday (23rd February).

Lachie John MacDonald is pictured working on his art project at Kyleakin Connections.

Earlier in the week, local MSP Kate Forbes said she had written to John Swinney, cabinet secretary for Covid Recovery, requesting clarification of the Covid rules.

She added: “Throughout the pandemic organisations like Kyleakin Connections have done an incredible job in supporting their clients, despite the limits on face-to-face interaction.

“Following last week’s story in the Free Press, we contacted Kyleakin Connections to understand the challenges that they face. Many other organisations like Kyleakin Connections are keen to get back to normality, whilst keeping their clients and staff safe.”


Covid rules – balance between protection and harm has tipped 

It’s just about two years since the first precautionary advice was issued warning against a then little-understood virus which had been edging westwards from China since the turn of 2020.

But very rapidly the loose instructions to ‘wash your hands and sing happy birthday’, would become ‘work from home if you can’, and then, by the third week of March, an imploration to: ‘Stay home, save lives, and protect the NHS’.

It was a simple, grave order – but in light of the Covid-19 reports and pictures from Italy and elsewhere, a measure widely acknowledged as having little alternative.

Whether the blunt instrument of lockdown was introduced too late, or persisted for too long in the UK will probably be the subject of debate for generations. But beyond dispute is that the rules – which eased and tightened to varying degrees over the following months – represented the biggest state intrusion into western lives since the end of the second world war.

In an unprecedented situation there was a clear enough motivation for these actions – a global pandemic which, at the last count, has contributed to an estimated 160,000 deaths in the UK, and nearly six million worldwide.

Above all the restrictions were brought in to safeguard the vulnerable. Covid-19 has been a threat to us all, but it is the sick, the old and the needy who have been most susceptible to its deadly reach – as witnessed most devastatingly in care homes, where the protections proved far weaker than they ought to have been. 

Unquestionably, however, things have now changed. 

Hopes of eliminating Covid by shutting society away from it are forlorn.

But the omicron strain is not having as lethal an impact as previous variants and the ‘tsunami’ has not proved as overwhelming as the use of that term had suggested it would. Deaths and severe illness from the virus have substantially reduced. The game-changing vaccines and new treatments, allied to infection-acquired immunity, have altered the dynamic and this week a road map to normality has been prepared.

It is needed, and cannot come too soon.

Last week’s front page story in this newspaper was a telling example of how, as society has opened up over recent months, rules brought in to protect the vulnerable are now bordering on doing them more harm.

Kyleakin Connections, the south Skye project which has done fantastic work over many years to support independent living opportunities for the disabled, has not been able to open its bookshop and café since March 2020. The one-day a week facility is staffed by service users, teaches them important work, life and social skills, is a popular place for locals to gather and is a key revenue source for the entire project.

Continuing to restrict the organisation, and others like it, serves only to limit the social contact opportunities for people who need them most. It is now a clear case of the balance between the potential to be damaged  by the virus, or the restrictions brought in to safeguard people from it, being tipped too far in the direction of the latter.

Likewise, it is known that school children, for whom the virus poses little threat, are still missing out on education and sporting opportunities due to being made to isolate at home for seven day periods when there are a number of cases detected in their class – even if they themselves have had the virus previously and are testing negative. 

We know Covid-19 is not over, and new variants could yet emerge. It is still sensible that those showing symptoms of Covid – or indeed any infectious virus – take steps to make sure they don’t pass it on to others. An accessible testing system will still be needed to monitor outbreaks.

However, the threat of what could potentially happen, can no longer be reason enough to inflict the continued level of disruptions to the country’s health, education and economy that we have seen in the past two years.

And just as it was for the protection of the vulnerable that guided us down the road towards a life under Covid-19 restrictions, so it must be for the same reason that informs us to make the route out.

Article by Michael Russell, editorial by Keith MacKenzie, and images by Willie Urquhart.